Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, May 11, 2018

Singing For The People

Every generation has their favorite music.  It's a reflection of a particular time and place in which people find themselves. These tunes are not necessarily focused in one specific genre but they do mirror an era.  More times often than not the music of one generation carries to the following generations. 

As a child or grandchild growing up and hearing the songs of a band or singer played repeatedly, it becomes a part of your lifelong personal musical playlist.  Strong memories are created.  There are also remarkable musicians whose music is timeless and ingrained in the history of a nation.  One of those men was Pete Seeger. The Golden Thread: A Song For Pete Seeger (Balzar & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, April 17, 2018) written by Colin Meloy with illustrations by Nikki McClure will fill your heart with lingering melodies.

I heard there was a golden thread
A shining, magic thing
That bounded up our little world


Many ears heard and longed to hear the words of Pete Seeger as he championed the working person or care for Mother Earth.  His words and the tunes played on his five-string banjo echoed throughout our land, weapons to right wrongs.  You could easily say music surrounded Pete from the time he was born.  His family lived and breathed music.

As he grew so did his skill with his banjo.  He seemed to know what music was needed in any given situation; bringing spirit-lifting tunes to soldiers in World War Two and supporting the need for labor unions.  About this time, 1943, Pete married Toshi-Aline Ohta.  They were married until her death on July 9, 1943.

We Shall Overcome 

became a great anthem for the civil rights movement.

As a member of the group Weavers Pete Seeger and company took the Lead Belly song, Goodnight, Irene, making it a hit in 1950 for more than six months.  Also in 1950 a senator, Joseph McCarthy, started a campaign to rid the United States of alleged communists.  Pete Seeger was one of the accused.  He spoke before a political hearing but refused to give up his right to free speech.  Even though he was blacklisted, this man's voice still rang out in song all around the world.  Eventually he joined other vocal folk singers back in these United States giving strength to much needed causes.

Pete and Toshi built a home along the Hudson River which at the time was suffering from the ravages of neglect by humans.  This was something Pete could and did not abide.  A boat and a song rallied people.  As Pete Seeger's songs wove through the history of our nation (and the world) time did not stand still.  It moved.  Pete Seeger has been gone for more than four years but his music and his accomplishments will live as he did, with boldness, purpose and heart.

Ending as it begins with Pete Seeger singing at the Lincoln Memorial, Colin Meloy gathers words forming one lyrical poem after another and portraying the life of Pete Seeger with truth and beauty.  Each of the portions reads like a verse in the song of this man's life's work.  It's a harmonizing, rhythmic tribute to a remarkable soul. Here are several passages.

When next we meet
We find you on a brimming street
The crowds, they're reaching
And you're teaching folks to
Preaching workers' rights to picket lines
At factories, farms, in copper mines
And speaking of union . . .

As threads have beginnings
So must they have ends
Just like a river in its bows and its bends
As it starts in the mountains and flows to the sea
It spreads the world over when it fin'lly breaks free

The illustrations starting with the matching dust jacket and book case were made as follows:

The artist took her own photos of Pete from filmed performances and used historical photos to make the images.  Artwork was created by cutting black paper with an X-Acto knife.  Golden paper was cut for additional layers of songs and backgrounds.  Fifty-eight blades and twenty-two pieces of black paper were used.

With marvelous, masterful talent Nikki McClure depicts Pete Seeger on the front of the jacket and case with animated realism.  He's getting ready to sing for America.  To the left, on the back, she has positioned his banjo and an axe.  The opening and closing endpapers are in the golden colored paper.  On a page prior to the title page we see the lower portion of Pete's chest and an arm carrying his banjo next to his walking legs.  In the other hand he has a hammer.  On the banjo we read:


With that hammer Pete tacks up a sign holding the text for the title page.  

A two page illustration beginning on the left with a seated Peter tuning his banjo winds to the right.  A golden thread from the banjo expands to a banner on the right reading THE GOLDEN THREAD.  Above this are the dedications. 

Nikki McClure alternates between two-page pictures and single page images.  Within one of these illustrations she can and does shift her perspective.  A golden thread, like a banner, weaves through each picture.  These threads contain the words to a song Pete Seeger was known for singing.  With every page turn you will be amazed at the fine details she includes.

One of my many favorite illustrations (My eyes fill with tears whenever I look at it.) is for the second passage I have noted.  On the left Pete's head is bowed next to Toshi's face and his hand rests on her body near her chin.  Both of their eyes are closed.  Her body extends over the gutter to form a river on the right on which a boat sails.  Two tiny figures are seen near the back.  The song in the golden thread is Turn Turn Turn. 

This summer the theme selected by Collaborative Summer Library Program is Libraries Rock! Pete Seeger and this title The Golden Thread: A Song For Pete Seeger written by Colin Meloy with illustrations by Nikki McClure will most definitely be a part of our selections.  This is a strikingly lovely book in words and images certain to resonate with all ages.  I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections. 

Be sure to access the websites of Colin Meloy and Nikki McClure to learn more about them and their other work by following the links attached to their names.  You might enjoy the NPR show The Inspiring Force of 'We Shall Overcome'. Enjoy the book trailer with Colin Meloy speaking about this book.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher and featuring titles selected by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. This looks gorgeous!! Am a big Nikki McClure and Pete Seeger fan. Thanks for featuring this book -- hadn't heard of it.

    1. Well, if you are a Nikki McClure and Pete Seeger fan, this book is totally for you, Jama. I hope you have been able to get a copy.